Ragdoll physics have been a fascination in video games ever since their inception. There’s something hypnotizing about watching a body flail around. The first ragdoll physics games were little more than tech demos. There were rules and goals attached to them, sure, but the level of player interaction was limited. In recent years, though, developers have become more imaginative the possibilities of a ragdoll-based gameplay.
Ragdoll Masters is a little-known game by Rag Doll Software. The game first launched in May of 2005 and has since received two major updates. Their own description of the title is as follows:
Ragdoll Masters is an experiment in the world of 2D beat ’em’ ups with the use of ragdoll physics. In this game you control a stylized martial arts master, making his way through stronger and stronger opponents with spectacular moves and impressive blows. It features some of the most sophisticated physics ever used in 2D games and plenty of other neat effects.
2D ragdoll-based fighting games have recently been popularized by the much-publicized Rag Doll Kung Fu. While I appreciate the artistic care Mark Healy put into the production of RDKF, I must admit that I had a lot more fun playing Ragdoll Masters.
Ragdoll Masters is more simplistic than RDKF. Control is keyboard-based and limited to the four primary directions. Left and right rotate your character. Up and down trigger impulses in their respective directions. It’s a little clumsy at first, even to the point of flailing, but after a few minutes of play you learn how to keep track of your limbs. Strategic thinking quickly emerges: how to swing around to attack the head of an approaching enemy, how to keep your limbs between your opponents fists/feet and your vulnerable sections, which enemy positions are most vulnerable to attack, and so on.
The game unfolds in open arenas of moderate size against a variety of opponents. The camera does a good job of zooming in and out as necessary to keep all combatants on screen. You start out battling a single opponent, but quickly move on to battling larger opponents (some 3-4x your size!), multiple opponents, and robots (stronger opponents). The advantage you have as the player is the ability to combo: success blows deal more and more damage until interrupted by an opponent successfully striking you. In larger bouts it’s practically required to reach 10+ combos in order to prevail.
Ragdoll Masters is hard. Very hard. It takes awhile to feel like your little rag-man on screen is manifesting your intentions as a player. When you finally do overcome the first few levels the game really lays it on thick. You’ll be fighting three opponents just a few levels in, and it just gets harder from there. The farthest I’ve played is level 11 of 20.
The game features arcade-style scoring: when you die the game is over. It adds to the intensity of just barely passing a new level, sure, but you also need to play the first few levels of the game over and over again. A practice mode or some other way to continue the game in order to play the higher levels more frequently would be a welcome addition to the game’s features.
Speaking of features, in addition to the single player game Ragdoll Masters also contains a 2-player versus and co-op mode. We didn’t play versus mode here for very long before launching into some delightfully entertaining co-op games. It makes the game easier–you’ll fight the same sequence of enemies with two players as you will with one–and it’s really entertaining to try to coordinate your attacks with someone else. It wasn’t long before we were frantically screaming out for help from each other. You could also try playing 2-player co-op with one person and two hands on the keyboard.
Despite its simplistic controls Ragdoll Masters does a great job of crafting an engaging entertainment experience. It’s a solid implementation of a 2D ragdoll fighting game and a definite bargain at $9.95. Give it a try!
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